Staley, J.T., Girling, R.D., Stewart-Jones, A., Poppy, G.M., Leather, S.R. and Wright, D.J.
Organic and conventional fertilizer effects on a tritrophic interaction: parasitism, performance and preference of Cotesia vestalis
Journal of Applied Entomology (doi:10.1111/j.1439-0418.2010.01604.x).
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Interest in sustainable farming methods that rely on alternatives to conventional synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is increasing. Sustainable farming methods often utilize natural populations of predatory and parasitic species to control populations of herbivores, which may be potential pest species. We investigated the effects of several types of fertilizer, including those typical of sustainable and conventional farming systems, on the interaction between a herbivore and parasitoid. The effects of fertilizer type on percentage parasitism, parasitoid performance, parasitoid attack behaviour and responses to plant volatiles were examined using a model Brassica system, consisting of Brassica oleracea var capitata, Plutella xylostella (Lepidoptera) larvae and Cotesia vestalis (parasitoid). Percentage parasitism was greatest for P. xylostella larvae feeding on plants that had received either a synthetic ammonium nitrate fertilizer or were unfertilized, in comparison to those receiving a composite fertilizer containing hoof and horn. Parasitism was intermediate on plants fertilized with an organically produced animal manure. Male parasitoid tibia length showed the same pattern as percentage parasitism, an indication that offspring performance was maximized on the treatments preferred by female parasitoids for oviposition. Percentage parasitism and parasitoid size were not correlated with foliar nitrogen concentration. The parasitoids did not discriminate between hosts feeding on plants in the four fertilizer treatments in parasitoid behaviour assays, but showed a preference for unfertilized plants in olfactometer experiments. The percentage parasitism and tibia length results provide support for the preference–performance hypothesis.
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